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DIARY - TOULMIN SMITH

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By hooker or by crook ...
By hooker or by crook

Bangkok's voters go to the polls later this month to elect a new governor.

Among the candidates is Chuwit Kamolvisit, who is known as the city's massage parlour king, running six establishments that offer a range of services, I understand.

Mr Chuwit freely admits paying the local police around 200m baht - around£3m - over the past 10 years in protection money, free gifts and 'services', to protect his business empire.

Ironically, he is running on an anti-corruption ticket, though sees no contradiction in this.

He says: 'I am a lowlife. Running Bangkok and running a massage parlour isn't all that different.'

Of the money he has paid out, he says: 'I am not saying it is bribes. I always say it is a 'convenience', to make my business convenient, to make my business smooth.'

However, he was cold-shouldered when he tried to present prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra with a list of people who had received 'conveniences'.

Besides putting an end to corruption, Mr Chuwit promises to make Bangkok a 'city of joy' through applying some of the principles gleaned from his business life.

To a British eye - and its suspicion of even a whiff of sexual impropriety in its politicians - this is all a little strange.

Though perhaps that is a good thing. Whatever his faults, I would, on balance, choose Ken Livingstone over Peter Stringfellow for London's mayor.

In charm's way

I've nothing against buttering up, but I fear things may be being taken to excess in a number of south-east counties (not naming names, but Kent CC and Hampshire CC spring to mind).

Both are apparently on a charm offensive with their respective districts, only too aware that their co-operation will be important in any bid to pilot new local area agreements.

The government offices in the regions, and ultimately the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, will decide whether the wind will blow fair or foul on each applicant's case. I hope these cordial new relationships weather the storm.

Sporting life

I hear that Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers' number two Mike Bennett was a highly promising rugby union player in his youth.

He even represented Scotland at junior level, playing alongside some current internationals.

However, he plumped for the path of academia and local government rather than the sports pitch.

But it set me thinking. How many top talents has local government lost to the world of professional sport, given the glamour and glory that surrounds it?

Perhaps ex-England rugby union skipper Martin Johnson could have turned his evident leadership skills to a large metropolitan council?

Or perhaps Tim Henman's local knowledge would have proved invaluable at the helm of Merton LBC?

Counting sheep

I used to lay awake, troubled by the genetic link between sheep and goats. Thanks to Essex CC, I can sleep easy once more.

The link, they tell me, is a hybrid called the Soay sheep, recently introduced to Essex. It has its origins off the west coast of Scotland and subsists on a diet of woody plants and seaweed.

But how am I to recognise this mysterious beast? The image on the council's website bears an uncanny resemblance to Kay Twitchen (Con), cabinet member for the environment (below left). Surely, this cannot be right.

Pet owners may often resemble their animals, but I have never heard of councillors looking like the species they seek to protect.

www.essexcc.gov.uk

Prison issue

Spare a thought for the residents of Crowland & Whopdale in Lincolnshire, who must feel somewhat under-represented at the moment.

One of their councillors - a certain William James Speechley - learned last week that he could continue as a member of Lincolnshire CC until at least October.

Except he has been in prison since April, making it difficult for him to carry out any representative duties.

Possible ways round this may include ward surgeries during prison visiting hours or virtual committee meetings.

Of mice and men

Steve Thomas may have garnered rave reviews as director of the Welsh Local Government Association, but I hear he has a blind - and deaf - spot when it comes to matters rodentine.

One former colleague remembers removing the ball from Mr Thomas' computer mouse as a jape. 'It took him two days to work out what was wrong with his computer,' he says.

Another group of WLGA pranksters stashed a squeaking toy mouse in the ceiling of Mr Thomas' office, and sat back to enjoy his bafflement turn to fury and, in time, insanity. But they were to be disappointed.

Mr Thomas barely noticed it for a week, and then put in a casual call to the folks at pest control.

And finally... Birmingham City Council has invented a new verb: to ASBO. 'Woman ASBO'd for loud music' is how it describes the case of council tenant Sharon McLoughlin, presumably after 'Eminem-ing' her neighbours

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